Home Away From Home: An International Student Guide to Chicago

University of Illinois at Chicago
Lewis University
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By Kate H Knapp
Last updated on June 14, 2024

International students can experience a little bit of home in Chicago’s Chinese, Indian, and Latin neighborhoods

As the third largest city in the United States, Chicago is home to people from all over the world — China, India, Italy, Greece, Mexico, and elsewhere — who settled within its multicultural neighborhoods in the 19th and 20th centuries. These neighborhoods embody the sights, scents, and sounds of different ethnicities, and offer the chance for international students to experience a little bit of home without leaving Chicago. Also known for Midwestern hospitality and friendly locals, the city is a welcoming destination for all.

International students attending Shorelight universities like University of Illinois Chicago and Lewis University won’t have to travel far to find a reminder of home, thanks to these Chinese, Indian, and Latin neighborhoods.  

Chicago’s International Neighborhoods

Chicago is a bustling city, featuring almost every type of cuisine, entertainment, or shop imaginable, but don’t let its size scare you. It is easy to get around due to a variety of transportation options — some of which are even free for students. The city boasts 77 ethnically diverse neighborhoods, which means that no matter where you are from, you are likely to find a little piece of home somewhere within its streets. These Chinese, Indian, and Latin neighborhoods honor their cultural heritages and are sure to help cure homesickness

Southeast Asian and Chinese Neighborhoods


Easily accessible by bus or seasonal water taxi, the city’s century-old Chinatown neighborhood is the place to go when feeling homesick for Southeast Asia or China. The ornately adorned areas surrounding Cermack Street and Wentworth Avenue boast an array of Chinese-American teahouses, restaurants, shops, karaoke spots, and grocery stores. At the heart of the neighborhood sits the jewel-toned and majestic Nine Dragon Wall, modeled after Beihei Park in Beijing and one of only three replicas outside of China.

Those missing the flavors of home can dine on dim sum at MingHin Cuisine, try a variety of dumplings at Qing Xiang Yuan, enjoy a bowl of ramen at Strings Ramen Shop, or grab a lotus paste baby moon cake at the neighborhood’s oldest bakery, Chiu Quon

For greater cultural insights, the Heritage Museum of Asian Art is dedicated to preserving and promoting Asian art and culture. In addition to its impressive art collection, the museum hosts important cultural events throughout the year and offers free admission nights on the third Friday of each month. To learn more about the history of Chinatown, visit the Chinese American Museum of Chicago.

Finally, don’t miss the annual Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade, with its decorative floats, traditional lion dancers, and musical acts.  

Indian Neighborhoods

Little India

Indian and Pakistani students who are missing home will want to visit the 15-block section of Devon Avenue known as Little India. Here they will find an array of eateries serving regional cuisines, salons offering henna tattoos, and shops selling saris, bangles, and bindis. Those who want to decorate their dorm room with traditional Indian textiles or décor should pop into Resham’s. For something sweet, cross the street to Sukhadia Sweets and Snacks to try the jalebi, halwa, burfi, or more. 

To take a little taste of India back to school, stop at the largest Indian grocery store in the US, Patel Brothers. The store prides itself on sourcing only the best ingredients for Indian cooking, including Indian spices, staples, and produce, and is an ideal spot to shop for a true taste of the culture.

Many events and activities take place at the Sikh Temple (Devon Gurdwara Sahib of Chicago), and Diwali is celebrated throughout the city each year.  

Latin Neighborhoods


Located in the Lower West Side, the Pilsen neighborhood honors Hispanic culture through its art, food, shops, music, and festivals. Vibrant and dynamic murals and mosaics, particularly the 16th Street Murals, can be found on the exterior of nearly every building (bodega, panaderia, family-owned restaurant, etc.) along the streets. For more art, visit the free National Museum of Mexican Art and discover Mexican culture through its folk art, textiles, photos, and more. 

Hungry for Mexican cuisine? The neighborhood boasts a variety of taquerias and authentic eateries. Head to Panaderia Nuevo Leon for gorditas dulces, Carnitas Urupan for carnitas, Carniceria Mirabel for tacos, and Birrieria Reyes de Ocotlan for birria.

The neighborhood celebrates Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) each year with festive activities, live music, and lovingly decorated altars at the museum and Harrison Park. 

Feel at Home Without Leaving Campus

University of Illinois Chicago

With a campus located just west of the Loop in downtown Chicago, University of Illinois Chicago makes it easy for international students to explore the neighborhoods that feel most like home. The college “welcomes more than 6,000 international students and scholars to [its] campus each year,” and provides plenty of on-campus resources to make sure every student feels welcome, including the Asian American Resource and Cultural Center and the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services. 

Phoo, a UIC student from Myanmar, said, “UIC is such a diverse university, and it helped me make a lot of new friends from different cultures … The thing that I love most about UIC is the people here. They always have a friendly smile on their face, and it makes you feel welcome in this environment. Everyone that I met has always given me their attention when speaking about myself and my life back home. I feel like I have found a new home here.”

Lewis University

Though it may be located 35 miles outside of Chicago in Romeoville, Lewis University wants international students to feel right at home on campus. The school’s International Student Association works hard to “foster an awareness of other cultures … promote friendships between international students, as well as with American students, and provide support and appreciation for the international student community.” 

Lewis students can easily get to the city, too: The Metra Heritage Corridor commuter train heads right into Union Station, and the university also offers a free shuttle service

Finding a Home Away from Home

With its range of ethnicities all existing within the city, Chicago is an ideal spot for international students to call home. Thanks to the city’s extensive transportation system, it isn’t hard to find a familiar and welcoming place, no matter where you are from. 

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